Monday 18th December 2006
This is a continuation from when I last made an entry, which is now quite a long time ago, so apologies for the tardiness.
The rain had actually stopped by the time I had finished updating my blog, so I decided to walk down to the lake. It was really beautiful in the late evening light. All silvers and greys with clouds hanging moodily over the mountains in the distance. It was just nice to be outside after a day largely spent sheltering from the rain. It was a nice evening too, playing cards, drinking some wine, chatting and generally enjoying ourselves. Arjun from France, Hannah from Liverpool, Peter from Denmark and Emelie and Matthias (sp?) from Sweden were all really friendly and made for good company. Which was just as well, considering the weather.
Tuesday 19th December 2006
Well, 'twas another day of rain in Taupo. There was a brief dry spell in the morning, so I started walking towards the lake with Emelie and Matthias (unfortunately, the [little] mountain I had wanted to climb was shrouded in cloud). However, it wasn't long (approx. 100m!) before we were forced to abandon our plans. The heavens opened and the rain poured down. Luckily we found shelter in Pak 'n Save (supermarket). Given that it was still looking evil when we went outside, we decided to go back to the hostel instead of trudging around the lake in the rain. This turned out to be a wise decision as the rain got heavier and heavier for the rest of the day. I was really rather glad that I wasn't staying in my tent!
Had a glass of wine with lunch, followed by a snooze. Then proceeded to play cards for much of the day, watching the rain fall outside the window. Further cooking, eating, wine-drinking, card-playing... The hostel had a really nice atmosphere - one of the best that I have stayed in. In fact, if it wasn't for the weather, it would have been a shame to leave. Some of the nice touches included free daily papers, freshly brewed coffee (a major perk) and the general friendliness of both staff and clientele.
Wednesday 20th December 2006
I got the bus over to Rotorua with Jana (from Germany) and Arjun (from France). It was a bit of a misty ride through the hills/mountains, but was nonetheless quite scenic. It was still showery upon arrival, so we decided to shop and cook together and have a leisurely lunch (spag bol and wine). Very civilised. We wandered around Rotorua afterwards, taking in the boiling mud, steamy pools and all-pervasive sulphurous odour. According to Arjun, it was all a bit disappointing after the splendours of Iceland. Still, I enjoyed seeing the steaming lake, but it was let down somewhat by the poor upkeep and litter lying about everywhere. Afterwards we wandered down to the lakeside, which looked nice in the evening sunshine.
We got back to the hostel and spent some time in the spa before going for a free coffee and then a free glass of wine (I keep getting asked for ID and so did Jana . She didn't have any and was told she couldn't stay on the premises unless one of us was her parent or guardian! Arjun was in his 30s but didn't look that old so we went back to the hostel to get her passport). Both vouchers were courtesy of the hostel, so naturally I liked that place. We ate quite late (nachos, chili and cheese) and I stayed up quite late chatting to Arjun from France. He's an interesting chap with Franco-Indian heritage, currently residing in Paris.
Thursday 21st December 2006
It was an e-mail/internetty type morning (still overcast and showery), followed by another long lunch with Arjun and Jana. Good company and a shame to say goodbye... Still, move on I must (didn't want to lose-out on my $1 bus fare!).
I got the bus to Mount Maunganui in the afternoon. Not such a scenic ride this time, although not ugly by any means, at least until I arrived in the outskirts of Tauranga (the city next to Mount Maunganui), which seemed a bit of a dump. The hostel was a bit of a trek from the bus stop, so I was glad to arrive and dump my stuff. It had brightened up a bit, so I decided to walk along the beach (long, sandy, islands off shore) prior to finding a supermarket (another long trek in the opposite direction). The hostel was quite big and a bit of a surfy place. Therefore it seemed rather cliquey to me. The beds were rubbish too. Soft, squeaky and it felt like an earthquake with the slightest movement from down below (I was in the top bunk). Luckily, I had a lovely bottle of Australian Shiraz, so not all was bad! I also chatted to two friendly Danish lads and a geography teacher from Holland. However, the general calibre of guests was lower than in the previous hostels.
Friday 22nd December 2006
Finally, it was a sunny morning! I walked around Mount Maaunganui's eponymous hill, then climbed to the top for the sensational views. It was really clear and bright and so nice to be out and about in the sunshine.
The euphoria of such a nice morning had worn me out, so I went back to the hostel for lunch and a lie-down. I walked along the beach in the afternoon... I think I definitely prefer the coast to inland places (although the fine weather always helps, of course). I finished the previous night's bottle of Shiraz and then watched a bit of the Lord of the Rings (in the absence of anyone nice to talk to). My gosh, what a load of old tripe! Slow, ponderous, tedious. Awful dialogue. Much like this blog, in fact. I started falling to sleep, so decided to go to bed. A noisy group of Koreans kept me awake, so I decided that I would be glad to leave this particular hostel, and was looking forward to spending Christmas in my tent (as long as the weather holds, that is).
I suppose I shouldn't be too negative about things though, as Mount Maunganui is a nice holiday town and its situation is splendid, with the ocean on one side and the harbour of Tauranga on the other. But it just goes to show how important both the quality of the hostel and your fellow guests are in determining the overall experience. All in all I must say that the Pacific Coast Lodge does not have a lot to recommend it. Steer clear.
Saturday 23rd December 2006
After the noisy Koreans had slowly rustled and chatted their way out the door at the crack of dawn, I was re-woken up by the owner of the hotel stripping beds in my room. At 8am! This didn't impress my after being kept awake my the noisy Koreans for much of the night. Grrr. But, on a brighter note, it is another sunny morning!
I wandered down to the beach for the final time and sat in the sun updating my diary. It started to spit with rain so I headed back to the hostel, only for the sun to come out and become hotter than ever (it was really burning in the courtyard/car park of the hostel). I could almost have been back in Australia.
I caught the bus without a hitch and got chatting to a French couple from Paris. The bus driver was having a bad day. First he took us down a dead-end in an industrial estate (Tauranga) and then almost overshot a subsequent turn-off. Ooops. I had to make an emergency toilet dash at one of the bus stops (me and my bladder aren't particularly happy about the lack of facilities on board NZ coaches). Otherwise, it was a pleasant and scenic journey (especially the last bit, through a gorge in the Coromandel).
I arrived in Thames mid-afternoon. The hostel was right next to the bus-stop (a relief after the hike in Mount Maunganui). Both the hostel and the town had a ghostly quiet about them. Everyone decamps for Christmas, apparently. I did manage to find a few people in Pak 'n Save, although it was nothing like the Christmas rush back at home (and they also had just about everything still in stock, which was strange so close to Christmas!). I had decided to do a Christmas shop, in case facilities were lacking in Whitianga, and ended up with a bulging trolley.
I then proceeded to make the most of the quiet hostel (about 3 other people). I made a nice beef stew and drank the remainder of the bottle of wine. One of my fellow guests was a cyclist from Canada who I had met briefly in Paihia, so we had a nice chat before an early (and very quiet) night.
Sunday 24th December 2006
Thames seemed even quieter today. I decided to take a picnic and explore the town before getting my bus. Despite sitting on the coast, Thames hasn't got much of a waterfront. Just a collection of unattractive uses (rubbish dump, light industry, retail park) and some worse-for-wear-looking mangrove swamps. And the brownest water I have seen outside of the Bristol Channel. Not very inspiring. There is a walkway along the coast, however, albeit about as pretty as Sunderland*.
Some half-interesting timber buildings were the highlight of the morning. About 100 years old, so they are probably grade 1* listed here!
My walk back to the hostel took me inland, as I tried to get higher up for a view over the town and gulf. Various ex-goldmining activities were in evidence and then came the highlight of the day: the town's cemetery. This is located at the highpoint of the town and the views are stunning. It was also interesting to see the graves carried on into the forest, where the reclamation of the dead by the trees, plants and decaying matter is eerily beautiful.
There was a bit of a hubbub at the bus station (2 buses at the same time - neither of them mine!). In fact, mine was a bit late and just as I was beginning to panic, the driver came to find me as he had been forced to park around the corner. Good service for $1! It was another scenic ( i.e. v. twisty) drive across the Coromandel Peninsula. And then the highlight of the day: my arrival at the Cat's Pyjamas. Ha! First impressions: eccentric to say the least...
*A slight exaggeration, perhaps.
Monday 25th December 2006 (Christmas Day for some of us)
Wendy and Buster were certainly interesting hosts. A right pair of characters! Still, they were kind and friendly and the other people staying at the hostel were really nice. Buster reminded me a lot of Grandad (in his more exuberant, younger days). Talk about life and soul! Which is probably why Wendy was so pleased to see and speak to all the guests (she even remembers everyone's name which is a nice little touch).
I decided to walk along the beach in the morning (after a nice long Christmas (Eve) chat with Mum and Dad. This was prior to a barbecue in the garden of the hostel. Lunch on the same lawn I was camping on... not too far to crawl for my post-prandial snooze.
The early clouds lifted upon my return and it was really warm for our al fresco Christmas lunch. Various guests hasd made bits and pieces (including sushi and Buster's Mussel fritters), so there was quite a spread. And a wholly non-traditional one, at that (apart from the lashings of trifle - not a patch on yours, Mim!). After a couple of hours of almost solid eating, I was stuffed. A secret-santa style game of pass-the-parcel ensued, to which I had contributed a couple of bottles of cheap(ish) beer (there was a $2 limit). I "won" a car sticker, which I have since misplaced and I can't remember what the joke was, apart from it being about divorce. Oh, I've got it: "Avoid divorce, stay single". Hmmm.
After lounging around on the grass for a while, me and a few others (Penny and Dave from Blackburn - Penny from Taunton originally - and Shona nad Peter from Newcastle (Australia) went to see Gallit (who I had met in Paihia) at the hostel where she was staying, just round the corner. It was nice for a change (it broke up what would have otherwise been a long day sitting in the same place), and we spent the evening chatting, playing silly games ('cause it's Christmas) and enjoying being able to sit outside. So much better than a cold Christmas, it has to be said.
P.S. The mussles with which Buster made the fritters were the most enormous mussels I have ever seen (even "world's strongest", from Sidmouth, couldn't compete!).
Tuesday 26th December (Boxing Day)
The friendly bunch at the hostel invited me to spend the day on the beach with them. It was probably my hottest day in New Zealand so far, so it was much too tempting a prospect to turn down.
We went to a lovely beach north of Whitianga (2 groups of 5 in two cars). Something beginning with an "O". Lovely white sand and clear water. I went for 2 swims and we played ball, had a nice picnic, etc...
Went back to hostel for a cup of tea before going to Hot Water Beach for an early-evening spa. It was a lovely setting and the water was certainly hot, although the smell of rotting fish and sulphur was a bit off-putting. Still it was a lovely evening, made even more memorable by Peter losing his car keys (Tim!), us seareching the length of the beach with a child's rake, and then him finding them in the bottom of his bag. We also had a good giggle about burning our feet, hands and bums on the hot spots in the sand. We were pllanning a barbecue on return, but were scuppered by a lack of gas and were forced to fry all the meat instead (there was no oven or grill at he hostel). It was really nice to cook/eat all together and it rounded off a wonderful day very nicely indeed. The people present were: Emma from London (such a city girl she didn't even know what a combine harvest was!), Chiara from Florida (via Seattle), Lydia from Gloucestershire, Charlie from Tamworth, Callum, Scott and Finlay from Scotland, Penny and Dave, Shona and Pete and Mat from somewhere in England (can't remember, oh yes I can - Newark, I think).
Wednesday 27th December 2006
I had thoroughly enjoyed Whitianga. The friendliness of the Cat's Pyjamas more than made up for the place's peculiarities (nothing fitted together, it was a total mish-mash, things were rather on the grubby side - just like the owners!). I was really lucky in my tent - no rain at all - although the 7:30 am furnace wan't always welcome (I had a couple of late nights by my standards). I was therefore quite tired and looking forward to some rest-days at the Lion's Den in Coromandel Town.
I was lucky enough to get a lift over there with Sara, one of Gallit's aquaintances from Whitianga. I thust forfeited a $1 bus fare, but saved several more besides as I hadn't pre-booked the Thames-Coromandel leg of my anticipated journey. As it was we took a scenic short-cut across the peninsula, along a gravel road (a bit hairy, as, as you know, I am not the best passenger in the world).
We stopped off at a Kauri forest and some waterfalls en route, both of which were lovely.
I arrived at Lion's Den in time for a late lunch and a snooze. It had started raining (after a bright morning), so I took it easy for the rest of the day (reading, listening to music and drinking tea). The hostel was the ideal place to do just that. There were loads of nooks and crannies around the place (in which to sit and read or daydream), the gardens were beautiful and everywhere was crammed full of Lynda's artworks. It's a really small hostel (max 15 people), and a veritable oasis of calm, away from the increasingly hectic holiday atmosphere of Coromandel town.
Thursday 28th December 2006
Lynda had made pancakes for breakfast. I thought I had missed them by having breakfast too early, but there was a bowl with my name on it waiting for me when I got back from town. Lynda is a bit eccentric too, but not in a mad-as-a-puffin way like Wendy and Buster. It must be here artistic streak - the hostel is stuffed full of her creativitiy (I keep discovering quirky touches that I haven't seen before).
I seemed to be developing a bit of a cold, so aside from a shopping tip and a bit of local explortation, I took it easy: reading, booking hostels in Auckalnd and Dunedin, reserving a place on the ferry back to Auckland (a treat: there should be a toilet on board!), drinking more tea, cooking and eating (feed a cold, right?). A pretty good day then apart from the blocked sinuses.
PS Gallit came round for a cup of tea in the afternoon. I bumped into here while checking my e-mail at the local tourist information centre.
Friday 29th December 2006
Full-blown cold today: My nose was streaming and I felt rough. I had a very easy morning. Luckily I had a good book to get stuck into: On Beauty by Zadie Smith.
I snoozed for a bit after lunch but decided that I needed a bit of light exercise to get the muscus running.
I had a nice walk around the coast to Turk Bay. All very scenic (the Poka-something-or-other-trees are beautiful with their bright red blossom at this time of year), although I would have preferred it if the wind had eased slightly - I might have to buy a coat at this rate.
I like Coromandel Town though. The prettiest town I have been to in New Zealand (on a par with somewhere like Milton Keynes, then). Hmm... maybe it isn't quite as nice as Russell, but I didn't actually stay there. The holiday bustle gives it a bit more atmosphere than some of the other places I have been to. I'm also appreciating the peace and quiet of the hostel. The people staying there tend to keep themselves to themselves, and while this would normally be a bad thing, I am happy to have some quiet time and let my cold get better. Staying off the wine and ladening everything with heaps of garlic and chili seemed to do wonders. There's a lovely kitchen at the Lion's Den, in-keeping with the generally homely feel, so pottering around was a pleasure.
Saturday 30th December 2006
I spent the morning pottering around (an emerging theme!!!) and taking it easy in the hope that my cold would get better more quickly. In fact , I already felt much better in myself, altough my nose was still causing trouble and I haven't sneezed so much in my life (the bugs clearly wouldn't rest until everyone else was infected)!
I read the Saturday papers and then cooked both lunch and dinner, making the most of having the kitchen to myself (and thus avoiding the rain too).
I was planning a longish walk in the afternoon, but met Gallit after a few hundred meters, so we both went into town and then headed back to her place for a nosey around. She was working at a herbal disensery and garden, in return for free accommodation in a cute little caravan on site. It was a beautiful setting, surrounded by this lovely garden, full of medicinal herbs (must have been the final cure that my cold needed!).
The sun had come out at lunchtime and it turned out to be a gorgeous afternoon. After a cup of tea we went for a wander around said garden.
I then went for an early evening walk, which turned into a bit of an epic. I found a path which climbed higher and higher into the hills behind Coromandel Town. The evening light was gorgeous an the views were stunning, but I had to turn around before reaching the summit, for fear that I wouldn't get back before nightfall (I'm not equipped with a headtorch, unlike Dad). Still, a lovely walk, followed by a very hot curry, the combination of which (and the herbal garden, perhaps) seemed to clear my nose a bit.
Sunday 31st December 2006 (New Year's Eve)
Feeling better, so I decided that another long walk was in order. I first went to the Tourist Information Centre to find out where yesterday's path ultimately went (v. friendly and helpful staff - all women, as always: why is this?). Apparently it isn't an official right-of-way, but lots of people use is to reach the summit (and others use it to Mountain bike back down). It also links into another path which runs along the ridge, so I decided to use that and then walk back into town down the road from Kennedy's Bay.
It got rather scrambly towards the top and, in hindsight, my backless sandals weren't the best choice of footwear. Still, I got round in one piece and the views from the top were well worth the effort - simply stunning. I think it was probably the highest I had been in New Zealand up to that point - well over 500m (a good climb considering I started at sea-level), although that is all set to change on the South Island.
I got back in time for a late lunch and the discovery of a cake that Lynda hasd just made for her guests. 'Twas lovely and moist and reminded me of home! Definitely my favourite hostel so far (although strangely, the other guests aren't up to much - luckily the remants of my cold are stopping me from feeling overly sociable).
Had a nap, updated my diary and read for a bit, prior to going up to Gallit's caravan for a New Year's Eve shindig. Well, I took some stuff to eat (dahl, pickled beetroot and some of Lynda's cake) and Gallit had made some other bits for us to share, tapas style. It was all very nice and we surprised ourselves by making it to midnight without falling asleep (my bedtime had been getting earlier and earlier while staying at the lions' Den). The rain had scuppered our plans of heading into town to sample to local festivities, but luckily it had just about stopped by midnight , so I was able to walk back in the dry. A nice, simple way to herald in the New Year (just what my post-cold convalescence required).
Monday 1st January 2007 (New Years Day)
After more of Lynda's Cake for breakfast (luckily I'm not resovling to lose weight), I went for a beautiful walk out to the end of a little peninsula, close to Coromandel Town. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, the sea sparkling and blue and the views great. I'm running out of superlatives. Rain clouds appeared to be building in the west, but these held off and it stayed sunny all day.
I got the free bus to the ferry at 4pm. The driver was very friendly and informative. The ferry ride istelf was wonderul. So much better than the bus. And two toilets, too! Stunning views, dolphins, calm sea, rainbows, it had it all (even free mussels, cooked on the on-board barbecue). As the rainbows might habve suggested we passed through a couple of showers, but otherwise the weather was really good.
As you can probably tell, my time was running out towards the end of this post. That should explain any change in tenor, and the obvious spelling mistakes (the spell check doesn't seem to work on such a long post). I am currently working on the last 10 days and will try to post them before I leave Queenstown (on Monday). Until then, best wishes...